Bwindi is home to half the world’s surviving population of Mountain Gorilla
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (Bwindi NP) lies in south-western Uganda, on the edge of the Rift Valley, along the border with DR Congo where it shares a boundary with Virunga National Park. It is part of the famous Virunga ranges whose mist-covered hills are blanketed by one of Africa’s oldest and most biologically diverse rain forests— the aptly named Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
Among East African forests, Bwindi has some of the richest populations of trees, small mammals, birds, reptiles, butterflies, and moths. But it’s most famous residents are the giant Mountain Gorilla. Bwindi Forest is really old. It dates back over 25,000 years so it’s really old, but that’s not what’s so great about it. What’s so great about Bwindi is that it is the last remaining habitat of the world’s surviving population of Mountain Gorilla. That distinction is shared with two other parks on the Virunga ranges, of course, but Bwindi hosts more than 50% of the only Mountain Gorillas still alive today, and that makes Bwindi NP a really important destination.
Beyond the 340+ Mountain Gorilla protected by its borders, Bwindi NP hosts over 120 species of mammals, 348 species of birds, 220 species of butterflies, 27 species of frogs, chameleons, geckos, and many endangered species. Its forests contain over 400 species of plants (and counting) and Africa’s largest concentration of Mahogany trees. Because of its ecological importance, Bwindi NP was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is credited for its pivotal role in the effort to save the Mountain Gorilla from extinction. UNESCO describes it as “an isolated forest of outstanding biological richness”, but this “impenetrable forest” lives up to its name— it is accessible only on foot.
BWINDI NP is most notable for the 340 Bwindi gorillas, half of the world’s population of the critically endangered Mountain Gorillas. An estimated 116 are habituated. Mountain Gorillas are an endangered species with an estimated total population of about 650 individuals. They are intelligent, majestic, gentle giants that share over 90% of their genetic material with humans. In the 1960s and 1970s, Mountain Gorillas were captured to begin a population of them in captive facilities. No baby gorillas survived in captivity.
All of Bwindi’s habituated gorillas are known individually by the rangers and have been given names in order to identify them. They seldom react to tourists but sitting only a few meters from a gorilla and looking into its soft brown eyes is a spine-tingling experience not easily forgotten. Permits must be booked in advance because they are on high demand year round.
Other primates in the park include the common Chimpanzee, L’Hoest’s Monkey, African Elephant, Black and White Colobus, Red-Tailed Monkey, Vervets, giant Forest Hog, and small Antelope. Among the predators are the Side-Striped Jackal, African Golden Cat and African Civet.
BWINDI NP offers some of the finest bird watching in Africa. Its lush montane forest is a giant bird magnet, making it an unmissable destination for any birder visiting Uganda. With over 350 species recorded, including 23 endemic species like the Short-Tailed Warbler and Blue-Headed Sunbird, and plenty more being discovered by the day, it’s easy to see why Bwindi Forest is a must stop on any birding safari.
Globally threatened species such as African Green Broadbill and Shelley’s Crimsonwing are also found here. Other birds include the Handsome Francolin; Black-Billed Turaco; African Broadbill; Black and Cinnamon-chested Bee-eaters; Western Green Tinkerbird; Purple-breasted, Blue-headed and Regal Sunbirds; Short-tailed and Black-faced Rufous Warblers; Mountain-Masked and Collared Apalis; Mountain and Yellow-Streaked Greenbuls; and Many-colored Bush-Shrike, among others.
In terms of flora, the park is among the most diverse forests in East Africa, with over 1,000 flowering plant species, including more than 220 tree species, (more than 50 percent of Uganda’s tree species) and more than 104 fern species. The most famous of the threatened plant species found here is the Brown Mahogany.
BWINDI NP has developed ecotourism programmes that support community livelihoods, making it a model for integrating communities in sustainable resource management through East Africa. Selected gorilla families have been habituated to human presence but the number of visitors is tightly controlled to prevent degradation of the habitat, and risks to the gorillas. Revenues from gorilla tracking go to conservation efforts and supporting neighbouring communities.
Gorilla Experience: Gorilla tracking limited to a maximum of 8 people per gorilla group, per day. Once a habituated gorilla family has been located, you can settle down for an hour to observe them as they feed and groom while their babies tumble about the undergrowth, all under the watchful gaze of a fierce Silverback male.
Birding Safari: Birding takes place along the Buhoma Waterfall Trail and the Mubwindi Swamp trail in Ruhija. The varied habitats of Bwindi attract over 350 recorded species. Easy to see are the African Emerald Cuckoo, Common Bulbul, African Blue and White-tailed Blue Flycatchers and Red-headed Bluebill.
Bike Safari: Mountain biking follows a well-maintained trail from the park headquarters at Buhoma to the Ivi River. Along this 13km trail you may see wildlife such as Bushbucks, Black-and-White Colobus and Red-Tailed Monkeys. The six-seven hour round trip departs in the morning and is organized by Buhoma Community Rest Camp under the Ride for a Woman community development initiative.
Nature Trekking: There are six main nature trails in Bwindi for those who wish to explore the “impenetrable forest”: Muyanga Waterfall Walk, Rushura Hill Walk, Muzubijiro Loop, the Ivi River Walk, Buhoma-Nkuringo Trail, Habinyanja (Railegh) Trail. Depending on which trail you take, there are sightings of waterfalls, views of the Virungas and far-off features like Lake Edward and Lake George, and the rare opportunity to walk in a forest shared by two countries.
Culture Experience: There are a number of community walks with visits to a traditional homestead, a traditional healer, cultural performances, and opportunities to observe or participate in traditional crafts like brewing, blacksmithing, etc.
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